Manitoba's new wind farm — Canada's biggest — is facing more delays because its original financial backer is broke, and national wind advocates say the recession has cramped the booming wind industry.
Babcock & Brown, the Australian investment firm that was financing the new wind farm, is being liquidated by creditors and has sold off its North American wind power division, including Manitoba's project, to an American investment firm.
Construction on the 300-megawatt wind farm near St. Joseph is already a year behind schedule and it's not clear when work will start.
"The sale has definitely slowed down the power purchase process," Manitoba Hydro president Bob Brennan said. "Whether it's hurting anything, I don't know."
Canadian Wind Energy Association president Robert Hornung said tight capital markets and the global recession have put a slight damper on what was expected to be an exceptional year for wind.
"It's actually been a record year for wind installations so far," he said. "But it's fair to say that if you'd asked us the question a year ago, we would have predicted it would be bigger still."
About 1,000 megawatts were planned for 2009. About 800 megawatts will actually be installed.
Manitoba's newest wind farm marked a big leap forward towards the Doer government's green-power goal of 1,000 new megawatts of wind power by 2015. But the wind farm is on a tight deadline. For it to qualify for federal subsidies needed to make the project viable, the turbines must be turning by March 2011.
Progress has been a torturous, three-year affair. Hydro originally received a whopping 84 proposals for farms dotted all over southern Manitoba but chose the plan for a 300- megawatt farm near St. Joseph submitted by Babcock & Brown and Calgary-based Bowark.
Babcock & Brown hoped to start building last fall and started the environmental approvals process. Then, the start date was moved to this year, pending a deal with Manitoba Hydro to buy the power and put it on the grid.
Babcock & Brown's financial woes spurred this latest delay. Late last month, creditors began liquidating the company's assets and trading of its shares was suspended. Earlier this summer, the company's North American wind portfolio was bought by an American equity firm and spun off into a new company called Pattern Energy. That company now appears to be one of the key proponents of Manitoba's new wind farm.
Pattern Energy didn't return calls.
Meanwhile, cash from the federal wind power subsidy is mostly spoken for. In order to get a signed contribution deal with Ottawa, all the environmental approvals and power sale deals need to be done.
Wind advocates have been waiting to see whether the Tory government will top up the fund or kill it.
Hornung said the Obama administration has thrown open the doors to Canadian wind companies by tweaking tax incentives so Canadian companies are eligible. If Canada is to maintain its wind momentum and not lose development dollars to the U.S., Hornung said Ottawa has to create long-term certainty for companies counting on grants.
Brennan said it's possible Pattern Energy and Bowark might still start construction this year. He said it appears Pattern has enough capital to continue with the project. Brennan noted that if the wind farm fizzles, Hydro won't be out money.
Canada's biggest wind farm?
Location: Southern Manitoba, between St. Joseph and Letellier
Size: 300 megawatts — 100 megawatts more than the much-touted Wuskwatim dam
Cost: $800 million, at last count
Turbines: 130 turbines pumping 2.3 megawatts each
Scheduled completion date: 2011
Next biggest wind farm in Canada: Ontario's Wolfe Island farm, near Kingston. It's 197 megawatts
Challenger: Quebec, which has a 300-megawatt wind farm slated to open in 2012 or 2013